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This week I (twice) attended the excellent Art MA show at Oxford Brookes University. I would recommend it, if it hadn’t now concluded. Of the 12 student exhibitors, all were very good indeed, most were excellent and a few were exceptional – in my opinion, of course. The course centres around the work of Joseph Beuys and his notion of social sculpture; not so much what we thing of as sculpture, but more exploring creative and artistic means that allow people to have new interactions with the art and therefore their perceptions and the world around them, thus using the medium to shape, mould or ‘sculpt’ society. He saw this as a means to working towards a more ecological, sustainable global community…. right up my street!

One of the exhibits featured a series of work stations… each a high wooden stool with something like an easel in front of it, on which was a square cardboard tube at an angle. small boxes, like matchboxes, would fall out of the bottom in turn, and once examined could be place back in the top. On each box was written one word – imagination, freedom, anomally, opportunity, transformation etc etc – and inside a tiny, found object – a pebble, piece of stick, bottle top etc – with a precise position (presumably) of where it was found and a date. some of the links between the words and the object were clear, others, very obscure, requiring much thought. Each work station had a pencil and notebook with which to record these reflections. I loved it, and spent much time, essentially ‘playing’ in here.

One of the other exhibitors invited me to ‘do an action’ (a key part of social sculpture is active interaction) by taking and keeping one of the boxes. I thought I would love to. So I randomly swapped to another workstation and decided I would keep the very next box.

As the box dropped down the chute, I picked it up and read, on the top, the single word, ‘creativity’. What could possibly be better! What could be more suited to myself and the thought processes I was having at that time! I held it carefully in my hands, wondering what might be inside, wanting to build up to and cherish the moment when I discovered what tiny object, for the artist, had embodied the notion of creativity.

And then it occured to me, that the most creative thing I could do with this tiny box was to NOT open it. In fact, to NEVER open it. To take it away with me, to carry it round through the different phases of my life, maybe even all of my life, and to never KNOW but always to IMAGINE what might be in there. to not question the source of the inspiration, the creativity, the inspired moment, but to let it be, to accept it for what it could be, not to pin it down to what it mundanely, prosaically is.

So that is what I did. It sits now beside my drawing spot in my studio. I intend to look at it from time to time, to wonder, to let this hidden, tacit object of creativity inspire my thinking, my imagining. As id does so, from time to time, I may write down these reflections on pieces of paper which I then wrap around the box, so that, overtime, the invisible, hidden object, the forgotten moment of inspiration, becomes ever more deeply embedded in layer upon layer of its own creations…

It occurred to me later that I have always had a dream, to live in a house in which there is one door, one room, that is never, ever opened. That even when I first visited the house, I did not look into. That forever I would live in that house with the unknown mystery of what was behind the door, what was in the room. I will never own a house large enough to do such a thing. But it occurs to me that, with this small box, the artists have given me the secret place, the hidden room that I have always wanted. And that space is a tiny box of creativity…. it is within.

“Having evolved us into self-reflexive consciousness, the world can now know itself through us, behold its own majesty, tell its own stories – and also respond to its own suffering” (Joanna Macy).

One of the most stunning sentences I have ever read….

Gaia theory (and others) hold that the world is best percieved as one living organism, and the different parts of that as different organs. So, for example, humanity might be percieved as blood and we all blood cells, or the brain and we all brain cells.

Take that as a starting point, and then read the above sentence…

Consider, then, for a moment, that we, as a species (and not necessarily the only one) with ‘self-reflexive consciousness’ therefore have the role, the purpose, of being the consciousness of the planet, with the possibility, therefore, to know, behold the majesty, tell the stories and respond to the suffering of the planet… and ourselves.

What does that do to your world view?

What does that do to your self image?

Go figure…..

Go love.

Recenty, during a One Earth Healing event, ( https://www.facebook.com/oneearthhealing ), whilst focusing, with others around the world, to bring healing to our planet, I was felling a tree…

Or more precisely, one of several large trunks of a tree that was coppiced maybe 30 years ago. (For those of you who don’t know, coppicing is a practice whereby you cut a tree down near the ground, with the intention that it will then grow many smaller trunks from the base rather than just one. You can then keep taking out as many of these as you wish to provide you with wood of an appropriate size and more just grows… though this isn’t the best time of year for that. It is a sustainable way of managing timber and may actually prolong the over all life of the tree. This coppice had been left far too long and so each stem was as large as a whole tree… the one I cut was 18 inch diameter at the base and 30 foot tall.)

An unusual way to spend an earth healing event…. This process though, will cause minimal damage to a tree which is still very much alive, and will provide me with more than half of my winter wood supply. It seems to me a more earth friendly, less damaging or resource hungry way than many means of heating a home.

But as I surveyed the leaking sap and the fresh, newly exposed wood of the stump turning from a fleshy white to a blood red, I couldn’t help but feel the trauma of the harm I had done. Not killing a tree, maybe, but fairly indelicately hacking a huge limb off… this was not a clean, precise, surgical procedure with just my little bow saw, believe me….

So i sat and gave it Reiki, energy healing. I placed my hands on it, and clearly pictured all the love and gratitude and strength I could muster flowing into the damaged trunk. And then flowing down into the roots and the rest of the tree, and through the roots into the mycelium links that connect it to nearby trees, and their mycelium links that connect them to more distant trees and onwards to all of its arborial kind. (Mycelium are very real, microscopic networks in the soil that connect trees and other plants to many others, often over large distances and communicate everything from nutrients to chemical warnings of attack. They are the largest and some of the most remarkable living organisms on the planet, and a great metaphor for healing.)

And as I did so, I began to reflect on our relationship to trees, on the imbalance of that relationship and when it all began to go wrong. Long before the mass felling of rainforests… was it the industrial revolution when trees fuelled our furnaces? or the enclosures with the beginning of mass agriculture and mono cultures? or when kings began felling them to build war fleets? Or when we first discovered agriculture, 6 to 10,000 years ago and began to bend nature to our will rather than following its own plan? Or maybe when we developed metal and sharp axe edges, maybe even in the stone age? When we leant to make fire and so could live in otherwise inhospitable places and increase our numbers and territory but needed the extra wood to fuel that, and started cutting wood, rather than gathering sufficient from fallen wood? But maybe to coppice is less harmful than taking valuable fallen wood out of the ecosystem?

I may choose to pride myself that by using such a simple ‘ eco-friendly’ means of heating my home (and cooking) I am going back to a time before the damaging excesses of out current means of energy production. But if so I would fool myself. How far do I have to go back? When, if ever, was the point at which humans DID live in harmony with nature? Maybe that is what the first tellers and recorders of the Genesis creation myth were trying to say… that we can always hark back to ‘A Time Before’ when our relationship to the earth was as it should be, but that in fact, sometime very, very early on, the seeds of the breakdown in that relationship were sewn, somewhere in human longing and striving and greed.

The truth is, we can’t go back. We can only go forward. Nor should we want to go back. For many years, I have worked with people with addictions, and watched them repeatedly relapse. Each time, they feel they are back at square one, and wish that they could turn back the clock to the time before they relapsed. But i always say to them, there IS no way back to square one. They are where they are now, all the experiences they have gained and lessons learnt whilst getting and staying clean still count, are still real, they still have all those tools, and with all of that, they CAN only move forwards. Backwards simply isn’t possible.

And the same with our relationship with the earth. The way to a deeper, stronger, more whole and healing relationship with the earth is not backwards to a simpler time. There probably never was a simpler time, the mess we are in now is the product of those times, and as I say, backwards isn’t possible.

All we can do is to look at where we are now, to look at the lessons there are to learn here, to hear what nature is saying, shouting, screaming, crying at us, to LEARN those lessons well, and, with all the strength and energy and wisdom of this incredible planet backing us up every step of the way, to take up the most beautiful and valuable challenge imaginable and bravely, confidently, positively and LOUDLY move forwards….

Time to get going, I reckon…..

The following was originally written on 29th September 2012…

…It was mid evening, and I was happy and at peace in my caravan after a day of physical work, relaxed and enjoying the autumnal, warm feeling of my home. By way of background, this was the first day I was fully recovered after three or four days with a stomach virus, causing pain, initially severe, directly behind my solar plexus.

For the first time, I practised chakra breathing, which was beautiful. As I breathed into my solar plexus chakra, I was aware of a tiny, glowing white figure in an equally radiant boat, rowing across an endless expanse towards me. I could see nothing but the figure and boat, and could make out no detail as brilliant white light was all they were made of, but I could sense great exuberance, joy, happiness, laughter and excitement. As I watched, the figure put down her oars, climbed to the edge of the boat and eagerly, expectantly, leapt deep into the water, instantly dissolving into a momentary trace of luminescence and then nothing. But whilst there now was no light (other than the boat, which remained, bobbing, maybe to transport another?) the light was not extinguished. It was simply one with the water or the void or whatever medium it had been sailing across and had now dived into, and all was well. All was very well.

Then I lay back with my hands on my heart chakra. Very quickly, I pictured myself in a cavern, deep beneath the earth. All was dark, but warm and safe. There were multi-coloured traces and flashes of phosphorescence, of glimmering jewels and minerals in the wall, and the light seemed to gently shower downwards. Insects, dragonflies, things like birds and fairies filled the air, all jewelled like emeralds, sapphires, rubies, topaz…. They swirled and eddied through the roots of a great tree, which I was aware of in the light far above the cavern. It was an ancient, mighty tree, but dwarfed by the sheer scale of the subterranean universe in which I now found myself.

I became aware of the movement of water around my feet and the floor of the cave, and allowing myself to move with it, I found a tunnel, almost like a plug hole, down which the water flowed strongly and forcefully yet slow and steadily. I found myself in a boat floating along this tunnel. As we travelled (I was not alone at any point in this) I found the rocking movement of the boat, from side to side, became accentuated as we went round many bends and meanders, until the swaying became not of the boat but of myself, and I was not sailing but dancing.

Now I found myself in the grove of the ancient tree, dancing with others, including the trees with whom I and we all swayed and moved. I was outside, yet it was as if I was inside, as I had been in the cavern, because the dome of the sky was so real. To my right, in the centre of the glade near the tree was a fire. As I danced, I rose up with the fire, with the sparks, with the creatures that accompanied me still, with the light, with the heat, with the glowing, with the dark smoke, twisting and turning, weaving and winding with the trees, with the spiralling clouds, with the stars, the planets, the universe, until I and all these things danced one dance together as one.

The scene changed. Indistinctly, in the shadows, I saw the low-bowed head of a man, as he anointed his head three times from a dish of water. He placed a chain or robe or sash around his neck and rose as an anointed king. A door opened behind him, and he turned to walk out into brilliant whiteness, along a narrow, frail stone bridge, equally made of light, that stretched off into a pale infinity. This was his route. Behind him, through the door, came another man. A wise man, a sage, far older than the king, ancient even, and seeming giant-like in stature, yet old, weary, tired, and fearful for the king for whom he was full of love, support and anxiety. He followed, watchful, at a distance, walking with immense strength yet bent on his stick, into the radiant, pale void into which the king was vanishing.

As he passed, scenes from the kings life passed before him. A youth, spent in sport and laughter, merriment and chivalry amongst friends and kinsmen, but a youth now past. A home of warm hearths, rest and belonging, a mother’s embrace and a land as welcoming, but far away, across a dark and swirling ocean he could not cross because his path led another way. A love, beautiful, graceful, full of tenderness, knowing, joy and understanding, who turned with open arms to him. But though he took the hands in his, he let them fall, for he could not be loyal both to them and to his calling. It was as if he had been anointed once for each of them, washing each away, and had taken on this other mantle.

So onwards he journeyed, into his anointed kingship, his chosen path. He could no longer return to the things he had left behind, because he had rejected each of them in turn in favour of his path, and so they were no longer his to return to. Yet all the while, he was turning back, to his youth, his home, his love, to all that might have been but was not. And in so doing, he lost even the fullness of his kingship. The path he walked, though he walked it, was an empty and lonely one, directionless and with no end. Because his longing for the things he did not or could not have meant he did not receive even that which he had and wanted not.

Still onwards he went, until he entered the great whiteness he travelled through and became one with it. Surely, here was fulfilment, here was insight, wisdom, unveiled perception, truth to be found. Here he would gain meaning, find purpose, take possession of all that was his birthright and become the great king he was destined to be.

After some time, he appeared again from the brilliance, having passed through his passion. This time, he appeared on the shore of a great, still ocean, staring intently, searchingly out to where the horizon would have been had it not have faded to nothingness. I stood there too, and stared as hard as I could, eyes and mind reaching for the far shore, for an island, for a ship, a bird, a cloud, for anything, for whatever it was that he sought so hard for. Surely this must be the answer, this must be the purpose of his life, of life itself. This must be the wisdom he gained in the brilliance of his passion, for which he had given all he held dear, in return for this great jewel, the appearance of which we now both eagerly and earnestly awaited.

A time past. How long, I don’t know, it was unmeasured. And then, seeing nothing, he turned away.

With his departure, the vision faded, leaving only the empty whiteness. I remained in it, uncertain, seeking still the answer, waiting for it to appear out of this interminable haze. And in time it did. Still, I saw nothing, no object or idea appeared to me across the now faded sea. Instead I came to know that the thing which he and I both so earnestly sought, the Great Jewel, the pearl of great price that we both so longed for, was in his act of turning away.

Life is a constant act of turning away, as each of these three tales shows. From the past, from people, from possessions. From beliefs, concepts, perceptions of reality. From experience, identity, directions. Even, ultimately, from self, from the quest of overcoming self, and from the act of turning away. And it is not, necessarily, an act of turning to something else, but rather, maybe, to no thing. But this is not an act of loss or despair or loneliness or nihilism or fear or negation. No, this jewel, this Turning Away, is the strongest Hope, the greatest Freedom, the deepest Love that there is.

A friend asked me recently if it was wrong to want things. The things she wanted were all good, worthy, wholesome things to want, and simple. Wanting not to judge or chastise her I said that no, it is not wrong to want things, merely pointless, as wanting does not gain them, and distracting as it robs us of what we have. But in wanting to be gentle, I did her an unkindness. Because yes, it is wrong to want things. Not wrong as in bad, but wrong as in erroneous. For in wanting things, we are prevented from letting them go…

Just heard that Astronomers have blown the top off a mountain in Mexico to build a telescope.
Why are they looking at the meaning of the stars when they can’t see the meaning of the mountain?
Why are we looking for a future in the heavens when we can’t build a future on the earth?
Why are we looking at outer space when we should be looking at our inner selves?
We cannot gain vision through blindness……


Recently, on holiday in the South of England, inspired by the book, ‘Meetings with Remarkable Trees’  (Thomas Pakenham), my partner and I went to visit a stunning ancient yew tree. It is known to have been adult before the church in whose grounds it stands was built n 1056, and local lore dates it as between 1300 – 1500 years old. It is huge… my pacing made it about 25 feet round the bole and 28 metres across the reach of the crown. In many places it’s branches have touched the ground and reached upwards again, creating complex networks and tunnels. It is quite simply beautiful. And it is humbling in the extreme to be in the presence of a living entity that has stood for so, so long, and lived through so much.
Next to the tree is a display showing historic events since the church was built as a record of some of what the tree has lived through. It being mainly events that people will have heard of (with a few local interest items), it is largely a catalogue of wars. Which set me thinking…. If, as I do, we believe that our own (and everyone else’s) actions leave traces, then how much of human history has left its trace in the land from which that tree grew, and in the tree itself? And how much of that is in need of healing and forgiveness? By which I mean, how much does the tree have to forgive US for, not the other way round, and how much do the tree, the earth it stands on, and ourselves, need healing?
I have developed a habit in recent years, when I meet a remarkable tree, of sharing reiki, or healing energy with it. And so I did. Normally, when I do so, the energy of the tree extends from the trunk outwards to the edge of the canopy. It tends to feel strong, but light and vibrant. In this case, though, whilst the extent was the same, the energy was like a slow, deep vibration, so deep as to be almost impossible to feel. I traced it first away from the trunk to the canopy, and then returned to the centre, slowly, gently, and incredibly humbly, offering it what tiny, tiny bit of energy and healing I had to give, in the face of its might. It felt almost so small as to be ridiculous. Who did I think I was?!
As I did so, I thought, in reverse order, of the last 1000 years of human history, and what we have done that might have left those traces that are in need of healing…. Climate change, nuclear holocausts, the Great wars and so many smaller wars, deforestation, mining, pollution, depletion of resources, spiraling population, capitalism, slavery, the Industrial Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, social hierarchies…. I could go on….
I found myself not so much offering healing as pleading for forgiveness from the tree… The wound is so deep, I cannot even stick a plaster on it. I cannot even begin, other than to plead and to weep and to love.
And it struck me again, the degree to which THE ONLY WAY WE CAN HEAL THE EARTH IS TO HEAL OURSELVES. Not just as individuals, because we are NOT individuals, but AS COMMUNITIES, AS SOCIETIES, AS A RACE. Because we have forgotten what we are.
We have forgotten that what we are is nothing other than, nothing separate from that tree and the earth it stands on. That tree is not 1300 or 1500 years old. It is as old as the earth it grew from, which is as old as the ancient trees that died and rotted and made that earth beforehand, which are as old as the earth they grew from, as the rain that watered them, which is as old as every ocean it has ever passed through. And I grew from that same earth, was watered by those same oceans, and one day I too will again be part of that ancient earth and of some other future tree – I have never been otherwise. And in that moment, as I stood under that ancient, living yew with my hands on its warm trunk, there was nothing between the energy i felt in me and the energy I felt in the tree. I was just one of the freshest of its fruits, acknowledging the gift of my parent, generous beyond deserving, in the fleeting moment before I again fell to earth.

Until we remember that, we will keep going through the same cycles, as circular as the rings the tree adds to it’s story year after year, making the same mistakes, creating the same need for healing. What we do to the earth, we do to the tree, we do to ourselves. It is only in remembering and acknowledging who we are in relationship to that tree and this earth that we – our selves, communities, societies – can be healed. And it is only in listening closely and learning well the lessons that our One Earth gives us that we can begin to heal Earth with which we are One.
Dartmouth 2014 044

Recently a form I was completing asked me the following question, and I gave them the following answer. Well they did ask!!!!

Q: What changes would you like to see in the world and what part do you see yourself playing to work towards them?

A: Could we just start all over again? Somewhere just before the invention of agriculture perhaps…

There are so many changes I would like to see… the rise of alternatives to (in no particular order) capitalism, consumerism, individualism, war and aggression, industrialism, the wrong kind of patriotism and and the enforcement of artificial borders, the power of corporations such as the energy giants and pharmaceuticals, the disregard for people on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, ability or beliefs, the rejection of the weak, the perception of those who struggle as failures rather than heroes, the rejection rather than the embrace of the other, the disregard for the wellbeing of animals and the natural world, the spread of development and concreting of the earth, the unquestioning drive for more whatever that more may be of, the destruction of finite resources, the narrowness of what is normal and acceptable, the destruction of ancient cultures and learning, the narrowness, control and withholding of genuine education, the lie that we are here primarily to work, earn and consume rather than to be, the deification of the self, the notion that we can possess anything particularly the earth, the disregard of qualities such as beauty, creativity, wisdom, gentleness, simplicity, peace, tranquility, imagination, of life itself, and the end of the dominance and unquestioning propping-up of oppressive hierarchies and the dis-empowerment and willful, ignorant kowtowing to those hierarchies that perpetuate all of the above catastrophes.

I have spent much of my life trying to work towards implementing those changes, if only on the smallest scale (that being the only scale available to me most of the time), through the way I live my life, the way I think and speak, the beliefs I hold, the way I approach people around me, how I interact with the earth, how I choose to spend my time and the work I take on, through my art and writing, but also through campaigning, direct action, learning and joining with like minded people to collectively and individually build the alternatives.

For me, though, increasingly these days, all of the above boil down to one core problem, which is that we have forgotten (and also been deliberately mis-informed) what a human being is. We are therefore living to a false agenda and false expectations and so bound to fail, and fall back on the above props to alleviate that failure. We are not primarily consumers, subjects, voters, contributers to the economy or individuals. What we are is simply a multitude of connecting, pulsating, thriving cells in the one living organism that is the earth, even the universe.

Our problems stem from the fact that we have forgotten this and so treat the earth and our co-inhabitants as something other that we can disregard, rather than as an intrinsic part of ourselves, and us of them, which we would therefore do well to nurture. It is because of this loss of understanding of our true self (as separate from selves) that we feel the need to constantly and increasingly feed our inevitably shattered egos by consuming everything and everyone around us. Those egos are an illusion and because they are a lie we can only sustain them by constant feeding and propping-up.*

If we could get beyond that compulsion, beyond the lie, and get back to the memory of who and what we are, genuinely recognise our absolute integral one-ness with each other as part of the one earth, then, I am certain, we would cease to worry about the concerns that have so distracted us. We would realise that we already have available to us, within us and around us, all the solutions and alternatives to the earth’s crises.

Recently, a friend paraphrased a part of Starhawk’s writings. She explained that the journey we need to take is from believing that we are working to control the earth, to believing that we are working with the earth, to understanding that we are the earth working. If I could play a small part in awakening people to that and in the changes that would be made as a result of that awakening, I would be content.
*********

* To clarify, the ego and the separate self, our individuality are not things that I believe to be wrong in themselves, or we wouldn’t have them. In an ideal situation, they are invaluable tools that provide the interface for us to engage with the collective and the community of the outside world, rather like the walls of a cell provide the connecting tissue for adjoining to the cells around us – to continue the single organism allusion – and so enable us to become part of the whole, rather than separating us from it., thus allowing the whole organism to function healthily. Unfortunately, centuries of often intentional manipulation and distorting have caused them to expand exponentially beyond those boundaries, rather like cancer within a body of cells. Until now we are at the stage where the tool controls the craftsman, rather than the craftsman using his wisdom and skill to master the tool and put it to good use. We need to re-learn that skill.

a meditation to mark the darkest of nights and the returning of the light…

 

Stand, sit or lie upon the earth.  Be aware of your feet upon its surface.

Feel the energy of the earth, rising into your feet and your body.

Be aware that this is where you come from, your Mother, and your destiny.

Know that you are made of the same stuff as the earth, in all but the tiniest of details.

In your mind, travel deep into the heart of the earth:

Through the grass and soil, with all its plants, roots, animals, microscopic creatures.

Through the deeper clays that were laid down by passing rivers long ago.

Through the strong, still rock that has seen out the ages.

Into the hot, fiery core…

As you travel, feel the nature and intensity of each state.

Picture the dark, dark places, deep in the strong, loving heart of the earth your mother,

Picture the places where no light has shone since the creation of the earth…

Know that the Darkness is not bad, it is simply what it is:  dark.

In darkness you were formed, and to darkness you will return.

Welcome the Darkness for what it is.

 

Be still, and feel the night air around you.  Be aware of its touch and movement around you.

Feel the energy in its life and movement, surrounding and embracing you.

Be aware that this is what you breathe, what gives you life.

Know that you are made of the same stuff as the sky, in all but the tiniest of details.

In your mind, travel high through the air.

Through the air that surrounds you, its varying movement, temperature, scents and sounds.

Through the atmosphere, with all its layers, its winds and currents

Through space, with its vast, eternal, dark emptiness,

Into the infinite…

As you travel, experience the nature and intensity of each state.

Picture the dark, dark places, beyond the reach of even the brightest light,

Feel the darkness that surrounds and touches you on this, the darkest of nights.

Know that the Darkness is not bad, it is simply what it is:  dark.

In darkness you were formed, and to darkness you will return.

Know the Darkness for what it is.

 

Know the presence of water: the river nearby, in what you drink, or deep in your cells

Know the life in its flow, its cycling, its power, its immanence in all things.

Be aware that it is in every cell of your body, it is what makes and sustains you.

Know that you are made of the same stuff as the ocean, in all but the tiniest of details.

In your mind, immerse yourself in healing waters.

Into the happy play of the far-flowing rivers that will one day be the sea

Into the gentle lapping of the shore as it draws and releases you

Into the all-embracing stillness beneath the oceans

Into deepness…

As you travel, experience the nature and intensity of each state.

Picture the deepest, dark places where the weight of water obscures all brightness.

Know that even there, water teems with lifes most beautiful, intricate and mysterious forms.

Know that the Darkness is not bad, it is simply what it is:  dark.

In darkness you were formed, and to darkness you will return.

Accept the Darkness for what it is.

 

In this still, meditative moment, be aware of your Self.

Go beyond the distractions, thoughts, emotions, into the heart of your being.

Recognise that this is You, in your truest, purest self.

Know that you are made of the same stuff as every thing, in every meaningful detail.

From this place, view your experiences, feelings, memories, not just the bright ones:

the times you have suffered, through the fault of others, yourself or no-one

the things you regret, the things you didn’t do, the apparent mistakes

the precious gifts you have lost

Remember the darkness

As you remember, receive, gently hold and release each experience

Recognise what gifts each has given you: the wisdom, the strength, the opportunity

Recognise that they are what they are, the roots of the precious individual that is you.

Know that the Darkness is not bad, it is simply what it is:  dark.

In darkness you were formed, and to darkness you will return.

Lovingly embrace the Darkness for what it is.

 

From where you are, gaze deep into the fire.  Feel the exhilaration it awakens in you

Delight in its brightness, its heat, its shifting form, its wild energy

Be aware that this is what forged all life, that this flame, like you is the child of the Sun

Know that you are made of the same stuff as the fire, in all your dancing detail

In your heart, shine like the sun:

Glow with its pure heat, as it melts what once was cold, hard or impure

Burn with its untamed, unlimited, unending passion as it transforms you

Be radiant with its light, that illuminates the beautiful truth of all you see

Bathe in its brightness…

As you shine, know :

That it is light that made the universe, and light will shine in you as long as all things are.

That darkness and light are indvisible, without one there cannot be the other

That the brightest light shines most clearly in the blackest darkness, and it is not overcome.

Know that the Darkness is not bad, it is simply what it is:  dark.

Know that the Light is not good, it is simply what it is: light.

Know that good and bad, light and dark are simply shifting perceptions in the eye of the seer.

In darkness you were formed, in the light, you live.

Be Light in the Darkness, for that is what you are.

Recently, I came across an article in the Birmingham Mail. Not a paper I often read, but I happened to glance at it whilst killing time in Birmingham coach station. You can read the whole article at http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/private-henry-tandey-birmingham-soldier-5824583

It concerns the story of one Private Henry Tandey, possessor of a Victoria cross and an enigmatic smile that would confound even the Mona Lisa, the most decorated private of world war one and an all round good egg, by all accounts. However, in 1914 at the battle of Marcoing, he was involved in a potentially history changing incident.

During the battle, an injured young German came within his line of fire. The soldier did not attack him, or even raise his gun. Tandey felt unable to shoot an injured man in cold blood when he posed him no direct threat, so Tandey lowered his own gun and allowed him to live.

In 1938, Chamberlain met with some German dignatories, one of whom remembered this incident, and asked Chamberlain to thank the man personally. He did, and only then Tandey discover that the man whom he allowed to live was none other than Adolf Hitler. Clearly, had he shown less mercy, less common decency, the consequences for the history of much of the world could have been transformed.

It is easy, in the light of such a story, to decide that he was wrong, that such compassion is weakness and he should have acted with more decision. Or at least, even if accepting he could not possibly have known the massive outcomes of his actions in either direction, and that he acted as best he could, to look on his decision with despair and the deepest of regret. Indeed, the article suggests that when world war 2 broke out, then in his late 40s, Tandey tried to re-enlist, in order to right the wrong he perceived himself to have done. It is easy to see the story as an argument for a more aggressive, merciless, less gracious society. However, I feel that would be to misunderstand the story, and to do both Tandey and the thoroughly good motivations he acted from a severe disservice.

Firstly, it is unlikely, that the death of Hitler alone at a young age would have completely prevented the majority of what happened in Europe in the middle of the last century. Whilst Hitler was the instigator, designer, perpetrator and figurehead of much that constitutes probably the lowest point in the long narrative of (in)human depravity and madness, it is unrealistic to conclude that one person, no matter how charismatic and despotic could be entirely responsible for a whole period of history, alone, without the input and co-conspiracy of many others. Even without Hitler, world war two and the Holocaust would undoubtedly have played out even if in a different form.

Secondly, and more importantly, is the fact that, based on everything Tandey could possibly have known at the time of the incident, his decision and subsequent action were GOOD ones, dare I say it, even RIGHT. And to act well on the basis of the facts as they present themselves to us is the very best that anyone can ever hope to do. It is the pinnacle of human integrity and grace. Further, if he had acted differently, if he had shot a wounded man who was in no way threatening him simply because he was in some way other than him, then on a greatly reduced scale, he would himself have been guilty of the kind of atrocity that Hitler himself committed, a failure, or worse a refusal, to recognise the importance of life itself and the humanity of all people. And, I know that I, for one, would rather live in a world that contained the possibility of the corruption and degradation that hitler perpetrated, yet also the compassion, grace and decency exemplified in Tandey, than one in which that same compassion was sacrificed. For, if it were, then even without world war 2 and the firing of any bullet, Hitler and his ilk would most wholly, completely and truly have won.

Written to a friend (and myself) some time ago. Now written to you all.

“…You’re not invincible, you’re not required to be, and you have crap moments, no doubt often long moments and sometimes very long moments, as a result of all of that happened way back when. Which is absolutely fine, and allowed, and normal and actually a healthy sign… knowing that there is something wrong (and being upset about it) is a clear sign that a large part of you is still alright… You deserved a happy and peaceful life same as everyone else, and just because fairness is an irrelevance and an impossibility and never happens in real life doesn’t mean that things are not unfair. You got the hand you were dealt and some of it was shit and you are justifiably pissed off with those bits and with the undeserved negative effect they have had on your life through no fault of your own.

The things your mum / dad / whoever said and did to you, same as the things anyone else said or did to me fifteen, thirty, forty years ago, are NOT a present reality. They simply are not. Two weeks ago I was in Spain. It was at times a very dramatic and seminal experience and it lives strongly in my memory. But I am quite simply NOT there now, and the things that happened are not reality anymore, and the things I had to do then I don’t have to do now and many of the rules I lived by there don’t apply and I would be foolish to live by them here and now. I was very cold the other day, I’m not anymore, and so I have stopped shivering… it would be odd indeed to keep shivering in the warm. Unfortunately, because human minds are loquacious, they keep rabbiting on at us when frankly they should shut up and calm down, and they keep repeating the same lazy, default, easy phrases and ideas to us, because it is easier than learning anything new… that these things ARE still real, and we ARE still subject to the patterns and rules and lessons of thirty years ago.

But, quite simply WE ARE NOT! YOU ARE NOT! You are [name], who is here despite all that, who is funny and has friends and is friendly and open and strong and creative and knows their mind and for fuck sake, eventually, DOES get out of bed in the morning! how fucking awesome is that!!!! (Unless of course you’re reading this in bed at 5.37pm…. though it still counts as getting out of bed today if you do it any time before midnight…. and it can be brief…. it’s still awesome… In the face of the world, getting up is ALWAYS heroic.)

You are what you are now, right here in this moment… In this moment… In THIS moment… In THIS moment….
You are what you are in the quiet moment when something beautiful distracts you from all the worries and lies that were distracting you from something beautiful.
You are something beautiful… how else would you know what something beautiful was unless it rang a bell within you?
You are whatever you choose to be, because every choice makes you what you are, and EVERYTHING is a choice.
You are nothing but these things, and what you are is more than enough.

Thirty years ago, twenty, ten, one, another person, scared and confused and damaged, told you what you were. How could hey possibly have known that, when they didn’t even know what they were? So why do you believe them now? Why do I, why do any of us, believe these people?

Maybe it is because once, when we (everyone) were young and our parents were god and spoke with loud, strong voices and we knew no other voices and we knew no better and could not be blamed, we made the mistake of believing them. Which made it easier to believe them again. Which made it easier to believe them again. Until all we knew of ourselves was what they had told us. And that was all of our lives, all that we were. First it was five years, then it was ten, then twenty , then thirty, now forty….

Somehow, though, maybe because their voices were diluted a little by time or distance or by other voices, though only a little, another voice crept in. This one was a small voice, unassuming and quiet and not pushing to be heard in the melee but waiting for us to notice. And that voice, quietly, calmly, simply, said, “you know what? you’re alright you are”.

Unfortunately, though, that was our voice, our quiet, inner voice that speaks from the core of who we are. And we had been told that we were shit, a waste of space, bad, unwanted by loud and strident and authorative voices for decades. So how could we dare trust such an unreliable voice as our own, so contrary to all the voices we had heard so far and everything we had known? How could we dare risk unraveling EVERYTHING that we knew and felt and experienced and had been told, on the say-so of someone who, everything we knew and experienced and had been told informed us, was so utterly unreliable? so we ignored it, pushed it back under the surface, and carried on listening to the soothing CACOPHANY we had become used to and comfortable with.

BUT…. but we HAD heard it. And it was there. And it was quietly, peacefully smiling at us from deep within, waiting till we next noticed it. And we knew it was there. And we couldn’t ignore it. And we couldn’t quite be at ease with the loud voice anymore. We couldn’t quite accept that we were crap readily enough to actually jump off a cliff or screw up as much as the loud voices might have expected us to, as much as we might have WANTED to, just to prove our prevailing self-image was right. Because we had, at some point, in an unguarded quiet moment, heard a tiny, unassuming, unprepossessing, unafraid inner voice deep inside us say, “you know what? You’re alright you are.”

And whilst we couldn’t believe it – obviously not, not in the face of such overwhelming “evidence” in the form of all the other bellowing voices bearing witness and standing judge and jury and declaring their verdict on us – we couldn’t forget it, and we couldn’t ignore it, and we couldn’t silence it, and we couldn’t help but hope against hope against HOPE that it might just possibly perhaps be right… and that was the really scarey, hard moment where things got REALLY nasty and REALLY painful, because everything we knew and experienced and had been told was under threat, and it is always much harder to believe what in your heart you fear MIGHT be true than what numerous loud, strident, authorative voices repeatedly tell you IS true…. even when we know that those voices themselves have no idea what The Truth Found In Stillness is and get their evidence only from the loud strident voices that bellowed an ill-informed and ignorant form of truth at them.

But you know what? we stop and listen and give all our attention to the tiny voice of the miniscule wren when it sings invisibly in its hidden home. We stop and listen and give all our attention to the sound of the wind in the trees as it gathers in the distance then fades into another distance. We stop and listen and give all our attention to the sound of the sea on the shore as it comes, goes and returns, eternally re-iterating itself. We stop and listen and give all our attention to the sound of the wings of the birds as they fly past on their endless, instinctive migration. We stop and listen and give all of our attention to the muntjac, the fox or the pheasant as it cries like a beacon in a dark night. We stop and listen and give all our attention to the “plop” of a jumping fish as it returns to the river where it comes from, where it belongs. We stop and listen and give all our attention to the fall of a nut on the forest floor, perfectly in its season. We stop and listen and give all our attention to the sound of even a tiny stream as it flows the right path from its source to its destination. And do we for one moment think that they are lying? do we for one minute think to disbelieve or question their voices? do we for one moment think that these things could possibly be anything other than precisely what they are, here, now, in this moment, in this place? Do we think these voices could possibly speak ANYTHING other than the absolute TRUTH? Of course not.

Well you know what? that thing deep inside of us is made of EXACTLY the same stuff as each of them. And the voice with which we speak when we speak with that small, quiet unassuming voice that we find there is EXACTLY the same voice as all of these voices. And the level of truth that we find in there, in us, is exactly the same as the level of truth we find out there, in them. And just as we pay ultimate attention to them, when we begin to learn to pay the same attention to our Selves, our TRUE Selves, so we find that they are all saying exactly the same thing, the same truth. “You know what? You’re alright you are.”

All we need to do is to begin to have the courage to learn how to listen, how to receive what we hear, and how to believe it. I never said it was easy….. It’s beautiful, and real, and true, but beauty and reality and truth are rarely the same thing as easy. but they are always well worth a try, and a try that risks everything, that even risks unraveling everything we know and experience and have been told, in favour of the truth.

And one more thing. That notion, that lie that we were told and that falsehood we believed. That Thing that is “everything we know and experience and have been told”. Well I’m willing to bet you all the money I will ever earn (don’t get too excited) that it IS NOT “EVERYTHING that we know and experience and have been told”. There were, inevitably, a million things. It is simply everything that we choose to remember, and how we choose to remember it, and what our own cacophonous voice chooses lazily to keep shouting at us. And when we realise that, and when we learn to listen to our own quiet voice well enough to understand it, then we learn to listen to other voices more clearly too, and we realise that all along, we were not the only one, but one of many voices, even though some were misunderstood or misheard in the cacophany, all quietly, simply, smilingly saying, “You know what? You’re alright, you are”.”